Excerpt: All the King’s Men

Some said that traversing the Cerebrum looked different to everyone, and that made sense to Fox. Every individual who linked into the mindnet thought differently. To him, it looked blue, with bright points of light and wispy interconnecting trails of mist. Apparently, psychologists could tell what type of person you were by the way you described it, but he couldn’t understand how his psyche could be interpreted like that. Then again, he was literally looking at his own thought process, so maybe what they said was true.

Travelling the public domain took no time at all; he knew exactly where he was going. King’s domain changed location every time, but Fox had no trouble finding it, even among all the endless data stored here, and all the other private domains set up among them.

Today’s password was “Excalibur.”

The Cerebrum picked up on his thought and whisked him down a link immediately, not even waiting for him to voice the command. It took a lot of practice to jump down a link without vocalizing it, but to those who travelled here often enough, it was easy.

Just one jump, and there it was: the domain was nestled in between an article on King Arthur and another on medieval legends. Obviously, the domain was locked. He would need the code to get in. He supposed he could try to break in—that would make King unhappy, but it would be a good security test.

Maybe another day. He’d seen the news break this morning, and the Cerebrum had been pandemonium with so many people trying to get the story. The source hadn’t been revealed, but of course, he knew exactly who had dug up this one.

From the outside, the private domain looked like any other business meeting, but Fox knew that underneath, the security would look like a Gordian Knot. It had some of the best MindWallers in the world working on its upkeep. Not to mention this business was anything but ordinary—or legal.

He asked for permission to join the link-in, and it asked Name?

“John Johnson.”

Entry granted.

That wasn’t his real name any more than “Fox” was his real name. Of course, in the Cerebrum, no one went by their legal name; not anymore. Early on, there had been an international agreement that made it a law in all countries that everyone was supposed to use their real name and face when using the Cerebrum, but it hadn’t been that way in a long time.

He entered, and took note of who was present. He usually arrived right on time, so he expected that one or two habitually late people would show up in five minutes or so.

“Fox.” King raised a hand and gestured him to a seat. “Welcome.”

Fox was amused to note that King’s Domain was Arthurian-themed this week, complete with medieval castle and round table. He took a seat next to a blonde woman and grinned.

“Nice work, Joanne,” he said, nudging her with an elbow to get her attention. “I saw the story break earlier today.”

“I thought it was rather a nice piece of work myself.” Joanne turned and favoured him with a small but sincere smile. “It took forever to get through all the security guarding that one. What are you working on right now?”

“Oh, nothing important, not like that,” Fox shrugged.

“He’s going after military budgets,” King cut in. “Don’t let him fool you, he’s been after this one for months.”

“Way to ruin my surprise.” Fox tossed his head back with a laugh.

“Not trying for modesty?” Joanne teased.

“I tried modesty once. Didn’t really take.”

“I could try reprogramming your head,” offered a voice as he slid into the seat next to him. “While I’m at it, I could change your hair colour to something more sensible.”

Fox shook his head hastily, and his bright red hair bounced up and down, defying gravity in a way that it wouldn’t have been able to In Real Life.

“It goes with my name!” he protested.

Simon rolled his eyes. “Your fake name.”

“It’s fake hair.”

Simon heaved a put-upon sigh, but didn’t say anything else on the matter.

“That’s more government-style anyway.” Simon changed the subject. “Speaking of, that was neatly done, Joanne. Yet another terrible government policy revealed to the public domain.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you and Karl,” Joanne replied with a smile. “Who knew that Dream Dust would leave the mind susceptible enough that such a thing was possible? I wouldn’t have even thought of that without your experience to draw on—and Karl’s ingenuity.”

Simon preened at the praise, and this time it was Fox who rolled his eyes. He thought that half the reason Simon helped in the cause at all was because he would be lauded as a hero whenever a story broke.

Or, more accurately, “the Liberator” was lauded as a hero. Again.

There was that one time, before this all started, when Simon had rescued hundreds of imprisoned minds in Colombia and discovered government use of the illegal drug Dream Dust that rendered a mind completely helpless to resistance from invasion from outside MindHacks. Fox supposed that he deserved some acknowledgement for that one, especially since he would never receive recognition IRL.

None of them would, but that didn’t mean that their aliases weren’t well known.

Fox sulked silently and fiddled with the buckle on his glove, but was drawn out of it a minute later with the arrival of Karl and Mrs. Parks. Fox had a hard time looking at them, for two completely different reasons. Karl never appeared as a human-like figure; instead his features were nothing but a shapeless form of writhing grey mist. Fox found that trying to stare directly at Karl made his head start to hurt, so he’d stopped after the fifth time or so. Mrs. Parks always appeared in a white, hooded cloak backlit by a blindingly bright light.

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